A civil party at the Khmer Rouge tribunal told the court Thursday that he could hear family members crying out to Allah in the moments before cadre executed them, while he and his wife hid in nearby bushes to avoid the same fate.
Him Man, 66, an ethnic Cham villager from Kompong Cham province’s Kang Meas district, took the stand after two witnesses earlier this week described the arrest and massacre of hundreds of Cham in the district’s Peam Chikang commune in 1977—an event which only two people survived.
During his testimony Thursday, Mr. Man said the two survivors were him and his wife.
“I myself was among the Cham people who were being rounded up and taken to the pits in Au Trakuon pagoda,” he said.
“At that time, the situation was rather confusing and chaotic. The dogs were barking, the chickens were running here and there, so I presume even the cattle and the animals knew that people were being rounded up to be killed.”
To avoid what he described as a “death trap,” Mr. Man told the court that he and his wife pushed ahead of the main throng of Cham residents being herded toward Wat Au Trakuon and pretended to be villagers looking for lost cattle.
Unable to escape from the village due to the presence of armed militia ringing its perimeter, Mr. Man said he was forced to hide in shrubbery about 100 meters from the pagoda, which a witness on Tuesday testified had been turned into a security center.
“I was lying in the bush and I remained there until it became dark…. Then they started to kill the Cham people,” he said.
“I heard the screaming…‘Oh my Allah, please help me,’” Mr. Man said. “I believed that the screaming for Allah, for help, perhaps belonged to my mother and older brother.”
Following the killings at Wat Au Trakuon, Mr. Man said that he and his wife spent the next eight days hiding in a nearby pond—which at one point came under fire from cadre using automatic rifles and a grenade launcher—before taking refuge in field a few hundred meters away.
“It was a terrible situation, Mr. Lawyer,” Mr. Man said during questioning by civil party lawyer Lor Chunthy, describing being brought to the point of starvation after subsisting on water hyacinths, snails and insects.
“I was trying to…survive. Sometimes I could smell the stench—bad smells—and if the dead bodies were floating in the river and I could reach them, I may have eaten those dead bodies because of hunger.
“I could smell the stench from the grave pits where my mother died,” Mr. Man said, adding that the odor had helped satiate him.
“The stench at the time, I could say it was a good smell for me because of hunger.”
Mr. Man said that after “three months and 29 days” in hiding—a number he repeated multiple times Thursday—he and his wife were captured by cadre, but spared from death by the district secretary, a man he named only as “Kan.”
“He spared me because I knew how to retrieve the tangled net [and] I was skillful in blacksmithing.”
In addition to Thursday’s testimony from Mr. Man, the Trial Chamber also heard a request from Victor Koppe, defense counsel for Nuon Chea, for clarification on a submission by the international co-prosecutor for three extra witnesses to be included in the current segment of the case.
“I shall be honest…we didn’t see this particular request from the international co-prosecutor coming,” Mr. Koppe said.
“In the tsunami of the 8,155 pages coming from the approximately 500 individuals who have given testimony in Case 4 which have been disclosed to us since the beginning of this second trial against our client, it was simply buried.”
Mr. Koppe said that his team was “pulling the emergency brake.”
“We simply cannot do it anymore. Either we are given extra resources immediately or we should stop hearing evidence on the Cham right now.”
Assistant prosecutor Dale Lysak told the court that Mr. Koppe’s assertion that the request had been “buried” was “simply and utterly false.”
“This is becoming a repeating thing. Stunts by the defense counsel without any notice to the parties of the request,” he said.
Mr. Lysak said the prosecution had announced two of the witnesses in a May 2014 filing, while the third was newly discovered. He added that they would provide crucial information on this segment of the trial, which focuses on the charge of genocide against the Cham and Vietnamese during the Democratic Kampuchea period.
“We now have people—district chiefs—who have provided evidence that there was a clear policy to identify and kill the Cham people in these core areas where they lived,” he said.
Further back and forth between the parties was interrupted by Trial Chamber President Nil Nonn, who objected to the theatrics on display in the courtroom.
“I think the chamber is rather confused now and it seems that parties take turns to be like a host on a TV broadcast or radio broadcast,” Mr. Nonn said.
He later announced that proceedings would be adjourned until September 28 so that the Trial Chamber can deliberate on the issues raised in Thursday’s debate.